Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Atemwende, a breathturn : Adam Gopnik and Edmund de Waal

Craft and Art, Skill and Anxiety.

Craft is logic, and art defies it. The defiance is what makes art. The serenity of the artisan lies in her knowledge that it can all be done again. The anxiety of the artist; lies in knowing that if it is done again, she has become an artisan. (Gopnik,2014:7)


Edmund de Waal is a maker of objects with imagined histories. (Gopnik,2014:11)

Atemwende : A breathturn.

Edmund de Waal.

The Great Glass Case of Beautiful Things:
About the Art Of Edmund de Waal
Adam Gopnik. 2013.

‘Actually, I still make pots, you know’ Edmund de Waal.

The Sensuality of the Clay Body.

‘You have to work quickly and with definition, and your ideas have to come into focus with enormous rapidity.’ Edmund de Waal, on working with the different presence demanded on ones mind and hand whilst throwing with porcelain. The practice of porcelain forced a change in colour and finish in his work. New glazes, shimmering celadon and shiny black, arrived to catch the light and send it back. (Gopnik,2014:9)

The throwing of pots still remains central to his practice. ‘The material goes down, gets wet, is pulled open by the hand, spins- and then produces, as if by magic, the most transcendently human of all made things; volume, inner space, an interior, the carved out air that connects the morning teacup with the domes and spandrels of San Marco. There’s nothing there but clay and air, then there’s defined air. (Gopnik,2014:6)

Ceramics and Architecture.
Exhibition Spaces of the Enlightenment
The Porcelain Rooms



The pot, ancient as it is, is the first instance of pure innerness, of something made from the inside out. Building objects upwards is, in its way, an obvious and brutal thing; it derives from piles, and makes pyramids. Turning objects inward, on the wheel, is a subtler one, and derives from our need to have a place to put things in. (Gopnik,2014:7)

Together these new porcelain vessels collectively produced by De Waal are an experience of possessed space.
These collections of vessels in their Modernist vitrines seem to be both an expression of the architecture of a collection and simultaneously an affirmation of an interior space that can hold the singularity of a breath within a small pot.

‘ The ceramic module that he uses, the small pot, is deliberately made as non-functional as possible.’ (Gopnik,2014:9)

‘Even if we insist on seeing them impersonally, the sheer force of their numbers creates the poetic sense inherent, as Homer knew, in all inventories. They gang up on us.’ (Gopnik,2014:9) These groupings of objects placed together produce their own narratives, their own relations, and lines of inquiry. In so doing their ordering of the space around them brings meaning to those spaces. This is reinforced through the poetry and metaphor of the effect of ceramic vessels on space, as cited by De Waal himself through Wallace Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar” 1919.

‘The Jar, the elemental made thing, takes dominion over the unmade world. The air around it suddenly looks “slovenly,” insufficiently jar-like. Made things remake the unmade world. (Gopnik,2014:10)

Gopnik comments that we can’t look at hollow things without sensing their hollowness, as he notes we perceive haptically as aptly as optically. This allows us to read these vessels through both our sense of sight and our sense of space. The result is that we feel these objects; we can sense the heft of them made from their weight, shape and size. We become aware that we can feel objects as much as we can see them.

De Waal’s work brings about a sensuality and an empathy manifested between the strict ordering of his presentation through his vitrines and cabinets and the fragility and grouping of his porcelain vessels. This empathy promotes our interest with the interior parts of his groupings, with the interior emptiness and mystery of things we can only sense. His control and command of the geometric spatial relations found in his installations is juxtaposed by the multitude of diminutive interiors and negative spaces.
The relations of the architectural and those of the vessel are in constant flux, held in some sort of spatial narrative that seems to meditate stillness, like the museum these vessels are protected and intact, yet strangely they are held hostage by their surroundings.
The empathy we feel for their emptiness is perhaps choreographed, staged and ultimately forced, these are not just pots as De Waal admits but pots that have been by design rendered as non-functional as possible although they still bare the marks of his franchising. This neutering of his thrown clay forms into the realm of perhaps a purely sculptural object that is itself now a mere component in his Minimalist cabinets. What remains is a hollowness, but a contrived hollowness that speaks of spaces designed not made; unlike his Signs and Wonders intervention for the V&A, these works feel orphaned and cut adrift by their surroundings.


Does? ‘His art takes a familiar grammer of display and turns it into a poetry of memory. Inside a room, a great case filled with rows of porcelain pots.Along each row, a story. Inside each pot, a breath. (Gopnik,2014:11)